Book Review: THE TURN OF THE SCREW by Henry James




Title: The Turn of the Screw
Author: Henry James
Publisher: Oxford
Price: $6.95
Pages: 121
Genre: Ghostly Short Story
Year: 1898





In "The Turn of the Screw" a man tells some friends a story that is said to be very evil and unsettling. The book then continues to tell this story. This retelling is about a governess who was brought to a big house to teach and care for two siblings, a young boy and girl. The governess receives a letter from the headmaster of the young boy's school, which declares that the boy was expelled from school. The letter does not explain why the boy got expelled but the governess imagines something wicked to be the reason for it. Later on, the governess encounters two ghosts, who are the late governess and caretaker of the two children and who are both said to be dead. From thereon the governess tries to find out what these two ghosts want and in which way they are connected to the children.


At first I found it very easy to both get into and read the story. The beginning of it was quite understandable and quickly to go through. The book created anticipation for what was to come next during its first pages because the storyteller emphasised the greatness and shockingness of the story that he was about to tell. He made the reader want to read this story.
The beginning reminded me a lot of "The Time Traveller" (click here to read my review on that) because it was similarily structured: some people meet with each other and tell each other stories and then the book proceeds to be that story that is told in that surrounding. And as in "The Time Traveller" I also found it a bit sad that the lightness of the dialogues from the beginning did not continue throughout the rest of the book but made way for the retelling, which was much more difficult to read and understand.
When the retelling started, it read itself much more complex for me and I often caught myself drifting away to other thoughts. It was very hard for me to concentrate on many parts of the books, wherefore I had to reread many passages a couple of times until I fully got the meaning of them.
The book consists of many very very very long and fragmented sentences that make it too easy to lose and drown oneself within them and never reach the end of them. This structure made it quite hard to focus on the book and because I had to concentrate so hard on it, I often got a headache from reading this story.
I found it quite interesting that the main story of the book had a female protagonist and a female side character as its two main characters. Foremost the protagonist, the governess, seemed very likeable to me.
I really enjoyed the dialogue scenes between the governess and the minor character Mrs Grose because that was always when I found the governess to be the most charming and likeable. She laughed quite a lot, which I liked, and she also seemed smart, especially in comparison to Mrs Grose. Mrs Grose seemed to function as a contrast to the governess in those dialogue scenes.
Unfortunately, there were far too few conversations in this story, wherefore it was really hard to follow the story most of the time and I had to force myself through most of it.
I didn't like the vagueness of the book. No questions were really answered, all was left up for interpretation. And as the reader I couldn't really make sense of anything because even when I tried to see some logic in the long sentences, there wasn't any and the story didn't actually intend for there to be any sense, which was quite frustrating. Even the characters themselves couldn't make any sense of anything and also seemed to not really want or try to.
It was too bad that the characters from the beginning never showed up again because I would have loved to know what they had thought of the story and what effect it had had on them. It felt wrong not to mention them again in the end.



It was incredibly hard to follow this story because of the very long and complex and extremely fragmented sentences. Everything was so confusing that it made my head hurt when I tried to make sense out of anything. The characters themselves seemed to have been kept in the dark because they always only spoke in riddles or repeated what they or someone else had just said. Therefore there was no moving action in this story but everything and everyone seemed to rotate on the exact same point all the time. This was also why I felt like the story was far too long although it was already a short story with only about 100 pages. The author could have happily left out quite a lot of unnecessary and confusing sentences. The confusing writing style also frustrated me because I always had to reread everything again and again and still didn't fully understand it. As a non-native English speaker this always made me question my English skills which I hated.
I am very relieved to have finished this book now and to be able to put it behind me.
What I found positive in this story were the likeability of the main character, the governess, and some of the dialogue scenes that were quite interesting and easier to read.


I award this book with 2 out of 5 stars.


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